SFWC: Roles of Authors and a Sticky Situation

by | Feb 20, 2012

The San Francisco Writers Conference is going on and I’ve been going into San Francisco for the last three days for presentations, panel discussions and general networking.

(The photo above is from the lobby of the Mark Hopkins hotel between sessions.)

Energy and enthusiasm there have been terrific. The sold-out event presented more information for authors thinking about publishing, and many people seemed to be giving it serious thought.

Returning back the last couple of days, I made videos for you that point up some of the ideas that came up during activities there. They are both pretty short, I hope you enjoy them.

(Note: These are HD videos, and will look best if you enlarge them to full screen. If the videos don’t appear at first, please refresh your screen.)

Here’s the first report:

And here’s the one I made today:

Discussed in these videos:

  • San Francisco Writers Conference events
  • Traditional roles of author and publisher
  • Vendors at the conference
  • Something very specific to be on guard against when choosing vendors (this is important!)
tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Janet Angelo

    Something to keep in mind, Joel — most people who choose to do complete, 100% self-publishing today are going through CreateSpace because they know that most book sales take place on Amazon.

    Well, guess what? Even CreateSpace will determine the minimum that your print book can be priced at in order for them to make a profit, which isn’t surprising since they’re a retailer (Amazon). So even choosing to self-pub through CS, authors cannot choose whatever price they want for their books. There is a minimum, and then of course they can price it higher.

    Also, if an author is going to get someone else to do all the time-consuming work of editing, formatting, interior design, ebook formatting and conversion, purchasing the ISBN and stock photos, paying for title setup fees, and then publishing the book in both forms all over the Internet, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for that author to expect to PAY the one performing these services for all their time and labor.

    So to generically send out the scary caution that it’s a red flag of warning when someone expects to be paid for professional services rendered seems a bit unrealistic…unless you’re now offering your book design services for free too!

    The only real warning that needs to be sent out is that if a person pays an indie publisher to do all this for them, then that indie publisher should NOT keep more than 10% of book royalties, and should not even do that forever.

    I hope this gets posted, because I am making some valid points.


    • Joel Friedlander

      Hi Janet,

      Well, yes, I certainly do think authors should pay for services they contract for, otherwise I would be out of business, wouldn’t I?

      I think there’s a big difference between CreateSpace or another vendor stipulating a minimum price, and the practice of subsidy publishers that takes the entire pricing function out of the hands of the author, don’t you?

      And there’s no similarity that I can see between the situation I outlined and a publisher who performs all the work of preparing and publishing a book in exchange for a royalty on sales.

      The problem comes when the “publisher” wants authors to pay up front for all that work, then insists on setting the retail price. Why? Because then the author is also paying on the back end as well.

      The sole reason subsidy “publishers” do this is for one simple fact: they know that virtually all sales will be made to the author (especially since the books are ridiculously expensive!) so by inflating the retail price, then selling books to the author at 50% of that inflated price, they make an outrageous profit on the books simply for putting in an order with the printer.

      That’s the situation I’m warning people about here, and from the many authors I’ve been asked to “rescue” from these arrangements over the years, I’m going to stay with my advice.

  2. James


    You should make *more* videos. It suits your style and message very well.

  3. David Colin Carr

    It was great crossing paths with you at the conference, Joel – and with Brian Felsen of Book Baby and Mark Coker of Smashwords, a dozen freelance editors, scores of agents and acquisition folks, as well as all the author/presenters in an intense but casual atmosphere. The commitment to share information among everyone was even stronger than the push to market and find clients (which is pretty strong, too). It’s a great instantaneous community which plants seeds that mature from year to year into friendships and working relationships.

    I started to leave a short comment, but it became very long, so I’ve copied it and will offer it as a guest blog, Joel.

    I love doing 10 minute editorial consultations so much that I want more opportunities than once or twice a year at writers conferences. So I am offering writers with a book project – in any stage – a free skype consultation, as long as they agree to be video recorded for my blog.

    My strengths are in literary fiction, memoir and non-fiction. Subject matter is not important, but I love projects that deepen and expand the human heart or that lead to a world that is safer and more gracious and understanding.

    I don’t resonate strongly with popular genres like murder mysteries, YA, fantasy or romance – unless they are literary and insightful.

    If you are interested, you can find me here, or at http://www.editordavidcarr.com

  4. Dwight Okita

    Hi Joel, thanks for sharing videos from the conference. It makes me feel like I was there. Good point that self pubbers should always keep control of pricing for their book. That’s a red flag if someone wants to take that control away. In Chicago, the AWP conference is coming. 10,000 university writing teachers and writers coming to town for 4 days of workshops and a huge book fair. My poetry publisher is participating and I’ll get to sell my new self pubbed novel Prospect of My Arrival at an offsite event. Should be fun. Also the book fair is open to the public for one day so I’ll be there. If nothing else, I’ll have lots of bookmarks to hand out promoting my book.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Dwight, that’s great. It’s also a way to locate some friendly teachers and find out what it is they would like to buy for their classwork. Have fun.

  5. Mark LaFlamme

    Waddaya know? Joel speaks as well as his writes. How did THAT happen?
    Good stuff. “Writers change the world one reader at a time. But you can’t change the world with a book that’s still on your hard drive or in a box under your bed.” Good stuff. I have books in both locations. Quit spying on me Joe.
    Sounds like an energizing conference. Oh, to be in San Francisco in February instead of Maine.



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